07 October 2011

Season's greetings: Phirni (Indian rice pudding)

Its festive season everywhere.

Folks back home in India just finished celebrating Navratri and Dussera. For my non-desi friends, Navratri (nav= nine, ratri=nights) is the festival of nine nights. Every year, around this time, people in different parts of India celebrate for nine nights the awesomeness thats called the 'Divine Mother'.  Traditionally, its the harvest time in India and the Goddess Mother is invoked to bless her lot with another year of bountiful crops, happniess and prosperity. As with all things Indian, the invocation & celebration is all about rituals, food, dancing, music and merriment. I cant help but shake my head each time I realise how important and integral food and music is with the Indian way life. We Indians literally live to eat, dont we?

Anywho, for nine nights in a row, people (especially the ladies) will worship the Goddess during the day & then deck in different coloured traditional clothes at night and go out and dance in huge huge groups till the wee hours of morning. The festivities end with much aplomb on the tenth day, called Dussera. On this day, many Indians worship Goddess Saraswati, the presiding deity of knowledge. Typically, books are worshipped as the source of knowledge to thank the Goddess for her blessings and with the hope for continued learning in the coming year.  This year, N did a little puja yesterday at home & here's a quick peek into the books we worshipped;.  Isnt it cuteness?

N's doctoral thesis at the bottom, followed by a reference guide I use for work & then, a book I read to little V every night before he sleeps :)) (the drawing on the top symbolises Goddess Saraswati; N made it himself)

Besides being the tenth day of Navratri, Dussera also signifies the victory of good over evil. It is believed that this was the daywhen the righteous Lord Rama killed Ravana, the demon king who abducted Rama's beautiful wife Sita. Philosphically, this could be the day when each one of us can stop and ponder over the shortcomings in our lives and perhaps, make an effort to change for the better. More about Navratri and Dussera here.

Coming back to festive treats, we visited our new friends here in Boston on Tuesday to celebrate Navratri. I decided to take along Phirni, the Indian rice pudding to mark the sweet occasion. Phirni is a creamy rice rice pudding, make with milk, ground rice (or rice flour), cardamom & other nuts of choice (pistachios, cashews, almonds, etc). Did you know that this rice pudding takes many forms and names in different parts of the world? See Soma's informative post here on phirni to know more.

For this recipe, I used both homemade and store bought rice flours. I intended to use only the homemade one initially but noticed that the pudding didnt have the consistency I wanted. So improvised with using some store bought rice flour at the last minute till I was happy with the final dessert.

Because we were going to a party, I decided to serve the pudding in individual containers and carry them in a muffin tray. I used muffin liners for serving the dessert but on hindsight, I think that using good quality, disposable aluminium tart cups would have served the purpose much better.


1/4 cup good quality, long grain rice
4.5 cups whole milk
3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp rice flour (store bought)
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
10-15 strands saffron, soaked in a tsp of milk (optional)
5-6 almonds soaked, peeled & sliced (optional)
5-6 almonds, sliced for garnishing

1. Soak rice in water for about 1 hour. Grind to a *coarse* paste, using minimal water for the grinding.
2. Mix the store-bought rice flour with 2 tbsp of milk to form a thick paste and keep it ready on the side.
3. In a nonstick vessel, bring milk to a boil on medium heat.
4. Add the home-made rice paste to the milk and *stir continuously* (very important!) until you see the mixture becoming creamier. Make sure there are no lumps.
5. Once the rice has cooked (about 5 mins), add the store-based rice flour paste *little at a time, until the dessert reaches a thick consistency*. Again, keep stirring continuously.
6. When the mixture thickens, add the sugar, cardamom powder, saffron and other nuts of you choice. Mix well and cook for a minute more, until the sugar combines completely.
7. Switch off the heat and ladle into the serving containers. Garnish with more nuts of your nice.

The dish was a hit. Everyone at the party loved it; especially since it wasnt an overtly-sweet dessert.

Finally, to all my Canadian friends, a very happy Thanksgiving. I miss you a lot!!!!!